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Excel Tutorial

To make the most of this tutorial I suggest you follow through it while sitting in front
of a computer with Microsoft Excel running. This will allow you to try things out as
you follow along. This tutorial requires that you already have a basic working
knowledge for using the computer. I wrote this tutorial with reference to the 2002
version of Microsoft Excel, however, most of what is covered here will work pretty
much the same in all versions back to Excel 97. Additionally, while I am using
Windows XP, you should find that most Excel commands are essentially the same
on a Mac operating system.
I use the following conventions when referring to commands Edit > Find means
select Find from the Edit menu. Ctrl-C means depress the control and c key at the
same time. Similarly, Alt-Ctrl-C means press all three keys at once. Remember that
there are usually several ways to accomplish any one command, personally I use
the right click on my mouse and speed keys for most tasks. However, for this tutorial
I will make extensive use of the menus as most beginners seem to prefer this

Introduction to the workbook and spreadsheet

A spread sheet looks a lot like a table you might see in any word processing
package, but it has some very important features that most tables do not. The first is
that it is designed to make repetitive and/or complicated calculations very easy to
carry out. Secondly, most spreadsheet programs have advanced graphing
capabilities that make producing graphs from the data on the spread sheet relatively
While Excel is a very popular spreadsheet program, it is by no means the only one
that will do the job. This document is designed to aid biology students with their first
few spreadsheet applications. Excel and most other spreadsheet programs are very
powerful applications with far too many features to learn all in one sitting. If you are
interested in learning more advanced techniques I direct you to the help menu or to
consider purchasing one of many how to books.
In Excel each document is referred to as a workbook. Within each workbook you
can have any number of spread sheets, the default is three but you can add as
many sheets as you find necessary. At any given time, only one sheet is active in
your work book. It is important to note that most page formatting options apply only
to the sheet you are working with (for example, margins, headers and footers etc.).
Additionally, when you print, the default for Excel is to only print the sheet that is
The Excel window.
In Figure 1, a typical Excel window is pictured. Some of the toolbars shown may not
be currently visible. You can change which toolbars are visible in the View menu.
Toolbar views are toggle switches, if they are currently on and you select them they
will turn off, and vice versa. If you can not currently see one of the toolbars pictured
in Figure 1, turn it on now. Refer to Table 1 for brief descriptions of the toolbars
displayed in Figure 1.

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Cell (A1)
(active sheet)


Figure 1. The Excel window.

Table 1. Excel toolbars.

Toolbar Name


Title Bar

Displays the title of the workbook you are currently in.

Menu Bar

Menus, left click menu to see choices.

Formatting Toolbar

Various formatting shortcuts.

Standard Toolbar

Standard Tools, similar to other Microsoft products, and

some special tools for Excel.

Formula Bar

Two important fields, the left field shows the cell address
of the cell your cursor is currently located in.
The right field displays the 'actual' contents of the cell, this
field is especially important when you are entering

Tab Bar

Allows you to move through sheets. Note the active sheet

is always highlighted.

Status Bar

Displays a description of what Excel is doing.

Cell addressing and entering data

The spread sheet itself is laid out as a table made up of columns and rows. Each
column has a letter reference (A, B, C) and each row has a number reference (1,
2, 3). Each square in the spread sheet represents the intersection of 1 row and 1
column and is referred to as a cell. Cells are referenced according to the row and
column intersection. For example: cell A1 is the cell in column A and row 1. This
unique row and column reference of a cell is referred to as its 'address'. One of the
beauties of spread sheets is that once a datum, label or formula is entered into a
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unique cell in the spread sheet, the contents of the cell can then be used elsewhere
in the program simply by referencing the cell address.
Entering data or labels into cells is simple, just move the cursor to the cell you wish
to enter your datum, click to select the cell, enter your datum, and press enter. It's
important to note that you must press 'enter'; otherwise the spread sheet does not
recognize that you have entered data. If you wish to enter a series of numbers you
can speed up the process by using the auto fill capability.
To use auto fill, enter the first two numbers in the series in adjoining cells. Now
select both cells, grab the common handle (the little black box in the bottom right
hand corner of the selected cells) and drag down as far as needed. You should now
have a series of numbers, following the pattern of the first two you entered. This
trick will work for letters and formulas as well as numbers, and works for columns as
well as rows.


Before auto fill

After auto fill

Figure 2. Using Excel's auto fill.

For example; if you sampled every 30 sec, enter 30 sec in A1 and 60 sec
in A2. Select both cells, grab the handle and drag down to cell A8. You
should now have a series of numbers, each 30 more than the one above
it, as picture in the right hand screen shot.

Making your spread sheet look pretty.

To resize columns and rows, click in the header cell to select the column or row and
drag the margin. Or, right click the header cell and select the column width, row
height option.
Hundreds of options exist for formatting cells. Most of these are accessed by
selecting the cells you wish to format, right clicking, and selecting the format cells
option. Especially check out the options in the Number and Alignment tabs.

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Box 1. Spread Sheet Basics.

You must press enter after typing your datum in a cell.

To format cells, select, right click, and click the 'format cells' option.
Auto fill is activated by selecting the cells 'handle'.
To alter page format for printing, use File>PageSetup,

Entering formulas
There are two ways to enter formulas in Excel, either use one of the functions
already programmed in Excel, or enter your own from scratch.
Entering your own formula
To enter your own formula start by typing an equal sign (this tells Excel you are
entering a formula) and then entering the formula using operands and operators.
Standard arithmetic operators are listed in Table 1, but many others are available.
Operands can either be numbers you enter, or can be cell references. To enter a
cell reference into a formula either type it, or click the cell.
Table 2. Arithmetic operators.
Arithmetic operator

Meaning (example)

+ (plus sign)

Addition (3+3)

- (minus sign)

Subtraction (3-1)


Multiplication (3*3)

/ (forward slash)

Division (3/3)

% (percent sign)

Percent (20%)

^ (caret)

Exponentiation (3^2)

When using operators in your formulas, keep in mind that Excel follows an order of
operation as summarized in Table 3. If a formula contains operators with the same
precedence Excel evaluates the operators from left to right. To override operator
precedence, use parenthesis. For more information on entering your own formulas
check in; Excel Help>Contents> creating and correcting formulas.

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Table 3. Operator precedence in Excel.




: (colon)
(single space)
, (comma)

Reference operators

Negation (as in 1)



* and /

Multiplication and division

+ and

Addition and subtraction


Connects two strings of text (concatenation)

= < > <= >= <>


Using Excel's functions

The easiest way to understand the implementation of Excel functions is by following
a step by step example. To access Excel's functions, click the down arrow next to
the sum button. As shown in Figure 3, this gives you a popup menu showing the five
most common Excel functions, and below these, a menu choice titled 'More
Functions". Note that selecting one of the five functions in the pop up menu will work
differently then selecting them from the "More Functions" menu.
In this first example we will calculate the sum of a series of numbers.

Figure 3. Excel's pop up function menu.

Step 1. Start by entering the

series of numbers as pictured in
Figure 3. Place your cursor in
cell A7. Select sum from the list
of functions that appears when
you click the down arrow next to
the sum button (or click the sum
button). Excel tries to guess the
cells you wish to sum up.
Generally it will select all the
cells containing numerical data
immediately next to the cell you
are inserting the function into.

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Figure 4. Excel's sum function.

Step 2. You can see what cells

Excel has chosen in 2 ways.
They will be enclosed in a
marching dash box, and the
range is displayed in the
function window. In this case
Excel has chosen the correct
data. You can always override
by selecting the cells yourself,
or typing the correct range in
the function window.

Step 3. When the correct cells

have been chosen, press enter.
The sum will appear in cell A7.
Note that when you select cell
A7, the function appears in the
function window, but the result
will still appear in the cell on the
spread sheet

Figure 5. Result of using Excel's sum function.

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In this second example, we will calculate the standard deviation for the same
numbers used in the sum example.
Step 1. Place your cursor in cell A8.
From the function pop up menu
choose more functions.

Figure 6. Excel's insert function window.

Figure 7. Excel's Function Arguments window.

Step 2. When you select 'More

Functions', you will get a new
window where you can either
search for the function by name, or
select a category, and then scroll
down looking for the function. Notice
the description of the selected
function appears near the bottom of
the window. Enter 'standard
deviation' in the search window and
click 'Go'. Select the function

Step 3. Once you have selected

the function you want, you will get
yet a new window called 'Function
Arguments '. Here the program is
looking for the address, or actual
numbers, you want the function to
use. You can either enter the cells
addresses manually, or select the
cells, using click and drag. Go back
to the spread sheet and select the
cells A1 through A6. Your Function
Arguments window should now look
like the one in Figure 7. Select OK.
Cell A8 will now show the standard
deviation (4.1833) for cells A1
through A6.

Using auto fill to copy a formula.

Often, you will want to apply the same formula to a series of cell. Enter the weight
data as shown in Figure 8 (don't enter the mean weight). Use Excel's average
function to calculate the average for sample 1. Now, grab the cell handle for Sample
1 mean weight and drag down four cells. Go back and click in the cell for the mean
weight of sample 2. Notice that the formula bar, the function is still AVERAGE, but
the cell reference has moved down one row (in my example it would now read
B5:E5). This is referred to as relative addressing and it is the default method Excel
applies to copying formulas.

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Figure 8. Auto filling a formula in Excel.

Occasionally you will need to make an absolute reference to a cell. To do this, add
dollar signs to the cell reference. In my example I need to correct the mean weight
of all the samples by multiplying it by the Z factor of 1.0035, which is entered in cell
1I. To do this, I enter a formula, as shown in the formula bar of Figure 9, using $I$1
to reference the Z factor. Now, when I auto fill, all mean values are multiplied by the
value 1.0035. Give it a try, and see what happens when you don't use the absolute

Figure 9. Using an absolute reference in Excel.

Box 2. Entering formulas.

All formulas start with an = sign.

Case is not important when entering the formula.
Cells containing non numerical entrees will be ignored in calculations.
Excel functions are listed in; Excel Help>Contents>Function Reference
The default for auto filling formulas is to use relative addressing.

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Excel has the capability of making many different styles of graphs. The following
example will show you how to make a scatter plot, add a linear regression trend line,
and how to fine tune the graphs appearance.
Making a scatter plot.


Step 1. Let's start with a typical

set of data for establishing a
standard curve. Enter the data
into Excel as picture in Figure 10.
Now click the chart wizard
Click the XY scatter plot button.
Do not use line graph, this will not
give us what we want.
Select the first option for graph
sub-type (the one with just dots,
no line drawn), and click next.

Figure 10. Excel's chart wizard, step 1, selecting the

chart type.

Step 2. Excel will guess what

data you wish to use. It may or
may not guess correctly. To check
what data has been selected,
click the series tab.
The series window is also where
you would go to add more data.
Don't worry about the series name
for now.

Figure 11. Excel's Chart Wizard, step 2, selecting the

source data.

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Click the small box containing the

red arrow next to the X value
window. This button takes you
back to the spreadsheet. The data
being used as X values will be in
a marching dash box. If you need
to change the data being used,
just select it. Similarly, check the
Y data.
Remember, your X axis is
always the controlled variable
(in this case the protein
Figure 12. Excel's Chart Wizard, step 2, selecting the
source data.

This button appears in many Excel source data windows, clicking it will always take
you back to the spread sheet, allowing you to select cells for input.
Clicking this button will take you back to source data window you started from.
Step 3. When you are satisfied
with the data being used, click
next. This takes you to the Chart
Options window. Notice the
multiple tabs for formatting your

Figure 13. Excel's Chart Wizard, step 3.

Enter titles for the X and Y axis,

and a chart title.
In the Gridlines tab, remove the
major gridlines.
Since there is only one series, go
to the legend tab and remove the
Click next.

Step4. Choose where to place your chart in the work book. It's usually best to use the
default, object in sheet, as the graph appears next to your data.

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Standard curve for protein concentration.






[protein] mg/ml

Figure 14. Excel graph before fine tuning.

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Fine tuning your graph.

Pretty much anything you like can be modified in your graph, such as; changing the
coloured background, change the default tick marks position and intervals, change
the symbols used etc. To make changes, usually you can just double click the
region of the graph you want to change. For example, to get rid of the ugly grey
background seen in Figure 14, double click the background and change area to
none. Click a variety of positions on the chart and see what happens. Select the
chart and right click to get some other options including, reselecting the source data,
chart type and chart options. Also, with the chart selected, note that a new menu
called Chart, appears in the menu bar. We will use this menu to add a trendline.
Adding a trendline to a graph.
Select the chart (make sure the chart is selected, not just the graph) and the Chart
menu appears. Select Chart>Add Trendline. The window pictured in Figure 15 will
now appear. Select the Linear regression type and then switch to the Options Tab.
Select 'Display equation on chart', and 'Display R-squared value on chart'.
Figure 16 pictures the same graph as seen in Figure 15, but after cleaning it up and
adding the trendline.

Figure 15. Excel's Add Trendline window.

Figure 16. Excel graph after adding trendline.

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Adding error bars to a chart.

Select the data series to which you want to add error bars. To do this, click on of the
points on the graph belonging to the data series. On the Format menu, click
Selected Data Series. On the X Error Bars tab or the Y Error Bars tab, select the
options you want.
Box 3. Graphing basics.

Once your graph is made it will automatically be updated to reflect any

changes you make to the data used to create the graph.
To modify most things on your graph either right click the chart, or double
click the element you wish to change.
To access chart specific menus, the chart must be selected.

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